A MOTOCROSS racer from Somerset masterminded the sale of more than a million pounds worth of stolen vehicles.

Mantas Balciunas, 35, and his accomplice Liaqat Ali, 47, who handled vans and motorbikes nicked from all over Britain, are behind bars after being convicted following a major operation led by Scotland Yard's Organised Vehicle Crime Unit.

The lengthy investigation, codenamed Operation Hipsometer, targeted the duo who were receiving stolen motorbikes and Mercedes Sprinter vans, before 'cloning' the vehicles and selling them via online auction website eBay.

Detectives were able to identify more than 100 vehicles that the pair were responsible for handling between April 2012 and September 2017, worth a total of more than £1 million.

The vehicles had been either dismantled and sold as parts, used to repair genuinely damaged vehicles, or sold as complete vehicles to unwitting buyers via eBay, after their identity had been disguised using false number plates.

Detectives executed a search warrant in June 2017 at Balciunas' home in Midsomer Norton, where he lived with his wife and young child.

Balciunas sold the majority of the stolen bikes and vans from his home in Midsomer Norton.

Dectetives found parked outside his house a stolen Mercedes Sprinter van, which he was in the process of converting into a camper van and mobile workshop, to use himself as a keen motocross rider.

A second stolen and cloned Sprinter van was also found parked nearby with parts from other Sprinter vans recently stolen from Kent.

A further warrant was executed the same day at Balciunas' work unit, located on a remote farm in nearby Frome, which was where the stolen motorbikes were stripped and where stolen van parts were stored.

Several stolen Sprinter vans were found there, along with another stolen van containing more parts from nicked Sprinters carefully packed around a motorbike, stolen a few days before from Birmingham.

More stolen motorbikes were found inside the unit, including one whose identity had been cloned to that of a German motorcycle, and another stolen from Camden in north London just 10 days earlier.

Between 2014 and 2017, Balciunas sold more than 40 stolen motorbikes and Sprinter Vans to unwitting buyers via three eBay accounts he used.

The majority of the vehicles had been stolen in London and the Home Counties.

Detectives established that Balciunas was working with Ali.

Further search warrants were executed in September 2017 at Ali's home in Ilford, east London, and at his business address at a yard in nearby Romford.

Ali was operating several businesses from the yard - including a mini cab rental and repair service, vehicle breakers, vehicle recovery and a storage facility made up of shipping containers for rent.

During the search, parts were found from more vehicles stolen via a number of methods - including keyless car theft, robbery, test drive theft and burglary.

A machine designed to etch vehicle identity numbers (VINs) was also recovered from one of the containers linked to Balciunas.

Ali and Balciunas were charged in February last year.

Balciunas was found guilty last month of handling stolen goods and conspiracy to handle stolen goods following a trial at Southwark Crown Court.

He was sentenced to a total of seven-and-a-half years in jail on Friday (April 12th).

Ali was found guilty of conspiracy to handle stolen goods and was sentenced on Friday to four years and three months in prison.

Detective Constable Gavin Smith, of the Met's Organised Vehicle Crime Unit, said:

"These two men ran a prolific and well-organised criminal enterprise.

"Balciunas was prepared to go to great lengths to convince people that they were buying a legitimate vehicle and our investigation linked the offenders to a substantial number of offences.

"Ali had clearly been operating a safe haven to which stolen vehicles from across London were taken for a number of years, prior to our intervention."

He added: "I hope the sentences serve as a deterrent to those involved in this type of brazen criminality and reminds them that we will not stop bringing those responsible to justice."